Ask Tim Grey – 16 bit filters in Photoshop

Today’s Question:

To use filters such as Spherize, I’ve had to change to 8 bit mode. Is that going to change or is there an alternative to stay in 16 bit mode?

Tim’s Answer:

I suppose the most accurate answer to this would be “I have no idea”, since I don’t have any knowledge (nor, unfortunately, control) over what updates Adobe will choose to include in future versions of Photoshop. What I can tell you is that Adobe clearly recognizes the benefits of working in 16-bit per channel, and the fact that other aspects of the digital photography workflow (such as digital cameras, monitors, and printers) continue to improve to the point that higher than 8-bit per channel can provide some very real benefits (though in many cases those are relatively small benefits).

The other indicator that would suggest Adobe will be increasing the number of filters that support 16-bit per channel mode is that it has with various releases increased the number of filters that do support 16-bit per channel mode. In some cases there are workarounds that enable you to apply certain filters to a 16-bit per channel image by first working with that filter in 8-bit per channel moce (on a copy of your image) and then transferring the resulting effect via a separate layer (generally involving a blend mode) to the 16-bit per channel version of the image. Unfortunately, the Spherize filter doesn’t happen to be one of those.

Over time I’m sure just about all the filters in Photoshop will be upgraded to support the 16-bit per channel mode. Part of this is simple engineering resources. There are only so many hours available to create updates for each new version of Photoshop, so not everything on the list can make it into each release. In some cases thare are also practical limitations. Certain filter effects are incredibly processor-intensive, and working in 16-bit mode would be so slow that it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to update it. After all, why enable a filter to support 16-bit per channel when current hardware really can’t handle it, and all you’re going to do is have a bunch of unhappy photographers on your hands?

I’ve not seen any roadmaps from Adobe that would indicate when particular filters might be updated or which might be their highest priority, and they tend to be rather secretive about future updates. But I do think we’ll continue to see an expanded list of filters supporting 16-bit per channel mode over time.

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Tim Grey is regarded as one of the top educators in digital photography and imaging, offering clear guidance on complex subjects through his writing and speaking. He loves learning as much as he possibly can about digital imaging, and he loves sharing that information even more.
Photo by André Costantini

Author: Red River Paper

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